Aspect and elevation do amazing things. On Sunday, my girlfriend and I rock climbed in the sun. On Monday, a wicked low-pressure front rolled in to Rocky Mountain National Park and dumped snow in the high peaks for four days. Good excuse for me to catch up on work, I figured, but that little thing inside my brain whispered: The Chase is On.
On Tuesday and Wednesday I broke from my desk for my ritual trail-run-recon missions – running into valleys where I suspected ice might form, binoculars in hand. How and where this stuff forms in the Park defies logic – all of my theories are usually wrong, and the only way to know is to go. In the Meeker and Longs Cirques, nada; too cold up there, nothing melting and re-freezing. A little lower, above the Loch, I saw smatterings of ice on a climb called Necrophelia. Go figure.
Rationally speaking, what kind of fool would walk an hour and a half hoping for 180 feet of delaminating slush and horror? But we do all kinds of stupid things when you think about it. We work too much, don’t make the most of our pre- and post-work time, or our lunch breaks, or our time with friends, and the list continues. Hell, people mow their lawns. Why? For what? Step away from the “well, everyone does it” thing and you realize that mowing your lawn makes September ice climbers look like rocket surgeons. And we say dumb things, too, sometimes to justify our actions – the dreaded alpine start gets, “Well, the early bird gets the worm,” which I hate not because alpine climbing is any dumber than anything else, but because I hate getting up early. We continue with sayings like “Well, at least it’s Friday!” “It’s beer-thirty” and “It’s gotta be five o’clock somewhere.” But I love those sayings. Dumb things can be fun things. Silly things. Goofy things. Great things.
The week rolled on and work had quickly gotten to be a pain. Besides, Kristo (Patagonia’s athlete liaison) wanted me to test the new Simple Guide Jacket and M10 Pants (the Jacket rules, but I hadn’t used the Pants yet, even though I was supposed to).
I got to thinking, and took a cue from Patagonia trail running ambassador Krissy Moehl: there are few problems in life that a day of climbing can’t solve. Yeah, ditch the desk, I should get out. Yeah, I gotta go – because if I don’t, it wouldn’t be fair to Kristo.
Next thing I knew, my friend Chris Thompson (“Weasel One”) and I realized that we had the same schedule, and that late September seemed a great time to take the ice tools for a walk. I’ve never regretted getting out and have long convinced myself that it doesn’t have to be “fun” to be fun.
So, Friday morning we neared the climb and it looked really good. Weasel One flaked the ropes at the base and got a good look while I puttered around by my pack.
“Hey, mind if I take this lead?” I spouted, in typical form before knowing anything – logic might have suggested that any ice formed on September 25 would be ready to peel off, with water running on the warm rock beneath.
“Aaaall yours, man,” he replied. I hadn’t looked closely yet – the entire thing was ready to peel. And it was getting worse, as the day warmed and made way for the incoming seven-day sunny-and-warm spell.
Weasel One gave me a look that said, “Dude, you’re not too smart.” Funny thing is, I’d just had the same thought about him for being out here in the first place. “Rock pro, Weasel One, rock pro,” I said assuredly, tapping my index finger to my temple while sporting a smug grin. I hadn’t yet realized that verglas and munge coated all of the cracks. Ever see those old Road Runner cartoons? The ones where Wile E Coyote does that same tap to his temple and goes “Wile E Coyote, genius. I like the way that rolls out. Wile Eeeee Coyoteee, sooooooper geeeeenius,” just before…. Right.
Though it could have been simple early season wimpiness, the pitch felt like climbing on sloppy eggshells with character-building protection – or, to quote Weasel One immediately after finishing: “fucking terrifying.” But we made it safe enough, and on the hike out we passed a fisherman casting into a pond, people hiking in tank tops, and a lady who saw our packs asked if we’d been camping. Nope. Friends were out rock climbing in the sun at Lumpy Ridge.
I wouldn’t call our climb “fun” in the normal sense, but there’s something to it, something to just going instead of wondering and theorizing and making excuses, something playful and absurd that sure makes the mess of work emails piling up easier to handle – or to ignore for the weekend. Instead of being an adult just itching for the end of the work week, while strolling down the trail I wore the same grin as a little kid who’d just raided the cookie jar. Yeah, it was fun like that.
The Weasel One and I hit my cabin at two in the afternoon and we made burritos and poured drinks – it was marg-thirty. On Friday. And it had to be five o’clock somewhere.
[All photos, Kelly Cordes.]